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Universal Design


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Universal Design in College Instruction

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Universal Design or Inclusive Design is the formation of a classroom experience that is accessible to the diverse learning communities we encounter in higher education. Course design following these guidelines is accomplished through thoughtful planning, implementing, and evaluating instruction. In this section of our site, we've compiled information and resources to assist you in creating Universal Design of your courses. We have posed various questions that are essential to consider when designing, implementing, and evaluating your course based on Universal Design principles. Our site has been developed through a collaborative effort between the University of Oregon Teaching Engagement Program and Accessible Education Center (formerly Disability Services).

What is Universal Design?

Ron Mace of North Carolina State University Center for Universal Design describes this process as "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design" ( The origins of Universal Design evolved from the disciplines of engineering, urban planning, and construction. It involves consideration of factors associated with aesthetics, engineering options, environmental issues, safety concerns, and cost.

At the university, Universal Design principles provide a framework to encourage faculty members to actively utilize and embed inclusive instructional practices into their courses. These inclusive teaching methods reach a broader range of learners than many traditional classroom approaches.

Education researchers identify the principles of Universal Design along a continuum between student and instructor as Universal Design of Learning (UDL), Universal Design of Instruction (UDI), and Universal Course Design (UCD). Characteristics of all three are similar.

How is Universal Design applicable to instruction in higher education?

A university classroom is comprised of students from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences, and abilities including students for whom English is a second language, students who are sight or hearing impaired, and students with mobility limitations. Each classroom has students who are strong learning preferences (e.g. visual, kinesthetic, linguistic, musical, logical, etc.). By taking this diverse set of learners into consideration, the course experience can become richer for all faculty and students.

What is the research showing?

Two recent studies have demonstrated the success of Universal Design in the classroom. Research has shown that students feel most successful in courses where clear and consistent expectations are set from the beginning, learning is treated as a process, and a variety of instructional strategies are employed by the professor. These strategies can include:

There is an underlying connection between Universal Design principles and disability accommodations; both encourage accessibility to more diverse groups of people. While not as specific as individual student accommodations, it is likely that if the Universal Design principles are incorporated into the class, the need and request for specific accommodations from students with disabilities may decrease (Ketterlin-Geller & Johnstone, 2008).


Ketterlin-Geller, L. & Johnstone, C. (2008). Accommodations and universal design: Supporting access to assessments in higher education. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 19(2), 163-171.

Madaus, J.W., Scott, S. & McGuire, J. (2003). Barriers and bridges to learning as perceived by postsecondary students with learning disabilities (Universal Design for Instruction Project Technical Report No. 01). Retrieved from University of Connecticut, Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability website: